Why do we hate to be rejected? Why does it hurt?
Rejection is nothing more than a cognitive disposition towards someone. It’s just how someone thinks about you. In order for rejection to be effective, the one being rejected must be in need of acceptance. Acceptance is also just a cognitive disposition to someone. Why is it so powerful?
Our highest highs and lowest lows are a result of what is happening in other people’s heads. Tim Urban has an excellent post on why we should stop letting other people’s opinions ruin our lives where he argues essentially that our desire to be accepted is an evolutionary trait that came about because if we weren’t accepted we would be left to die. If we are not accepted in today’s world, we are not going to die, therefore the desire for acceptance by anyone is an ancient genetic leftover that makes no reasonable sense. This is one way to look at social rejection by a group of people. But what do we do with rejection between two people? A business owner ends a partnership. A spouse ends a marriage. A father leaves their child. Is this the same sort of genetic arousal within us?
Attachment theory would suggest that we are born with survival instincts that are based on attaching to others, so any threat to that in any context would generate a group of behaviours that would hopefully elicit a response from someone to meet that need.
I know some of the science. I can logically work my way through the reasoning behind these things that I feel inside but there seems to be something missing. I think that this goes deeper than simply our need for survival playing itself out in different ways. There is an element of identity that central to being a human that is inseparable from other humans. Mutual acceptance exemplifies what a human is, not just what a human needs. I am intricately tied to others. As Paul says, we are one body but many parts. This isn’t just a bunch of bodies living separately and individually and all we have to do is overthink our genetic make-up. Rather, we are a single body and we all are different parts. Rejection isn’t rejecting the other, it’s rejecting part of ourselves.
This deeper understanding of what makes a human a human is an important distinction. As individuals, we can reject and accept individuals and think nothing of it. We just see acceptance as a feeling that we have towards someone, and if we don’t give it, well, it should have no consequence. And if it does affect the other person, then it is their fault, because they just need to realize that it’s their weakness that needs that acceptance now. This kind of rejection tries to separate the person rejecting from the one being rejected.
However, I think that rejection and acceptance is tied into our own identities not just for survival but for wholeness. Rejection is an assault on our humanity. Rejection is like cutting off our own limbs, not just pruning branches. Accepting others is owning your own identity as being tied into others and refusing to see yourself as a standalone personality disconnected from everyone else.
Rejection hurts because you are being cut off from who you are, not just because your genes are telling you that you are going to die. Rejection hurts because we are connected and it’s cutting off that connection. By rejecting others, we reject part of ourselves. By accepting others, we learn to see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves.
The will to give ourselves to others and “welcome” them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.
– Miroslav Volf
In good relationships, we are happy to grow as the other person becomes part of us and who we are.
– Miroslav Volf